Webinar to explore treatment of obsessive-compulsive behaviour for children and youth with autism

A novel treatment package developed by Brock researchers for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviours (OCBs) will be the subject of a free public webinar next week.

On Tuesday, June 15 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., “‘I Believe in ME, Not OCB!’: A Manualized Approach to Treat Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour in Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder” will be presented by Tricia Vause, Associate Professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies. Vause will share results of research funded by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Sarah Davis, a PhD student in Child and Youth Studies, and Dana Kalil, a second-year master’s student in Applied Disability Studies, will also take part in the talk, which is part of the Lifespan Development Research Institute’s community speaker series.

The webinar features findings from a two-year randomized control trial (RCT) assessing the effectiveness of the “I Believe in ME, not OCB!” treatment package, which blends Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) with Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

“Blending CBT with behaviour-analytic components allowed for a comprehensive treatment that provided psychoeducation and equipped children and youth with various coping strategies,” says Vause. “These strategies then become part of their toolboxes that they can use for long-term empowerment and change.”

Many children and youth with ASD may display repetitive behaviours like frequent handwashing, ordering and arranging, seeking reassurance and carrying out rituals in day-to-day living. But these behaviours can also be accompanied by worries and concerns that may be difficult for children to talk about.

“CBT addresses the anxiety-related components,” says Vause. “Behaviour analysis helps to identify additional variables contributing to the presence of OCBs and teach core skills, such as functional communication training and social skills.”

In addition to blending two styles of intervention, the “I Believe in Me, Not OCB!” program ensures that a safe, fun environment puts children at ease and empowers them to resist compulsive behaviours.

“Our overarching goal was to decrease compulsive behaviour, but it is essential that youth feel welcome and comfortable when discussing and addressing challenging thoughts and behaviours,” says Vause. “Treatment included the integration of games, snacks and positive interactions with therapists that kept kids coming back week to week. They were so excited to share their progress with their therapists and they developed friendships with other children in the group treatment.”

Vause says the trial of the nine-week treatment, which she led in collaboration with Maurice Feldman of Applied Disability Studies and Jan Frijters of Child and Youth Studies, as well as several student researchers, is the first known RCT to exclusively treat OCB in children with ASD.

“The RCT demonstrated significant decreases in OCB and improved quality of life as a result of treatment in the majority of children and youth, and follow-up findings confirmed that a blended treatment of ABA and CBT is likely to be beneficial,” says Vause, adding that an expanded study that includes multiple sites will help make the results more generalized, leading to a change in standards of clinical practice.

Vause says it can be daunting to try to tackle OCBs, but that children and youth who participated in the RCT showed perseverance and courage when working with their therapists and families to design individualized treatment to meet their own needs.

As a result, participants came up with many creative strategies from “battling it out with karate moves to coming up with personalized statements, such as, ‘Scram, OCB,’ ‘I’m gonna beat you’ and ‘I got this!’” she says.

Vause and her colleagues are excited about finalizing their children’s workbook and a clinician’s manual, which will help more children and families gain access to the successful program once it is released.

“I’m excited to share with our audience how effective therapies can be when the kids are given some agency and value in their own treatment plans,” says Vause. “It’s empowering and can give them the confidence they need to tackle other behaviours and challenges they may face down the road.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the treatment is invited to attend next week’s event. Please register in advance to gain access to the webinar.

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